epa-hq-cc-nrdc-wide.jpg
Feb. 24, 2020 by Joel Mintz

EPA Enforcement in Distress -- and More Trouble Is Brewing

Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

In recent months the Trump administration has intensified its assault on federal environmental safeguards on several fronts. It has proposed drastic reductions in the scope of protections against water and air pollution, lagged in the cleanup of hazardous waste contamination, allowed the continued marketing of toxic herbicides, narrowed the scope of needed environmental impact reviews, ignored and undermined legitimate scientific studies and findings, and dismantled government attempts to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.

Every bit as disturbing, but much less discussed, is a discouraging deterioration in the rigor of EPA’s once-effective enforcement program, which identifies and punishes polluters that skirt federal regulations.

The agency’s latest enforcement statistics reflect a dramatic decline in injunctive relief — the amount of money EPA-enforcement activities compelled polluters to commit to spending to correct their environmental violations and maintain compliance with the law. That crucial metric fell to its lowest level in 15 years, from $20.6 billion in 2017 to just $3.95 billion in 2018.

Similarly, statistics released recently by the U.S. Department of Justice indicate that the number of environmental criminal cases referred by EPA …

Feb. 19, 2020 by Noah Sachs
AppalachianTrail_wide.jpg

This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US).

On Monday, February 24, the Supreme Court will hear argument in U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association. These consolidated cases pit a pipeline developer and the U.S. Forest Service against environmental groups that want to halt the pipeline's construction and protect the Appalachian Trail.

The court will have to construe several statutes, including the Mineral Leasing Act, which promotes pipeline rights-of-way and other energy development on federal lands (except lands in the National Park System), and the National Trails System Act, which designated the Appalachian Trail as a National Scenic Trail and put the Secretary of the Interior in charge of administering it. The secretary later delegated that authority to the National …

Feb. 18, 2020 by Daniel Farber
little-ice-age-painting-wide.jpg

Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The Little Ice Age wasn't actually an ice age, but it was a period of markedly colder temperatures that began in the 1200s and lasted into the mid-1800s, with the 1600s a particular low point. It was a time when London winter fairs were regularly held on the middle of a frozen Thames river, glaciers grew, and sea ice expanded. That episode of climate disruption may give us some insights into how current global warming may impact society.

Weather changes in the Little Ice Age were less unidirectional and less globally uniform than current climate change. Different places hit their lowest temperatures at different times, and there were often large gyrations in temperatures from year to year. One cause was that sun's radiation decreased for unknown reasons – there were decades with no sunspots at all. There were also …

Feb. 12, 2020 by Matthew Freeman
cpr-at-dcclimatestrike-04_flip_wide.jpg

When I was a 7th grader living in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., my school system was one of many around the nation to launch a program of school busing to desegregate its schools. After 18 years, the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education finally traveled a handful of miles down the road from the Supreme Court and arrived in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

The program was anything but voluntary as far as the school system was concerned, requiring a court order to make it happen. In fact, the order was very specific: It didn’t simply direct the county to desegregate; it required the county to submit for court approval specific plans laying out which children would go to which schools. It took the county, which fought the order right down to the last possible moment, several tries before the court …

Feb. 5, 2020 by Katie Tracy
human-migration-boat-wide.jpg

Last week, more than 100 advocates, academics, and reporters joined the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) for a webinar with three leading experts on climate migration and resilience. Presenters discussed the biggest challenges that communities and workers are facing due to the climate crisis.

As the climate crisis brings about more frequent and intense weather events, from wildfires to disastrous flooding, some families have been forced to flee to new communities. Maxine Burkett, Professor of Law at the University of Hawaii and a CPR Member Scholar, explained that while decisions to migrate are often multifaceted, families affected by extreme weather events are now considering climate change and environmental disaster in decisions about whether to leave their homes and communities.

Burkett added that slow-onset disasters, such as sea-level rise, and planned relocation are among several climate-related triggering scenarios that scholars focused on migration and displacement are studying. According …

Feb. 4, 2020 by James Goodwin
children-girls-wide.jpg

On Thursday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee's Environment Subcommittee will hold a hearing to examine the harm to children posed by the Trump administration's attack on one of the most wildly successful clean air protections in American history: the Obama-era Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS). The rule, adopted in 2012 after literally decades in the making, has reduced coal-fired power plant emissions of brain-damaging mercury by more than 81 percent, acid gases by more than 88 percent, and sulfur dioxide by more than 44 percent. Altogether, its pollution reductions have saved thousands of lives.

The February 6 hearing is part of a series that will highlight the despicably cruel impacts the Trump administration's assault on our safeguards is having on the nation's children. The other hearings will look at the administration's actions on the poverty line calculation, fair housing accountability, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance …

Jan. 28, 2020 by Karen Sokol
columnfeet_wide.jpg

On January 17, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a much-awaited decision dismissing Juliana v. United States, a climate case that gained more traction in the courts than anyone had expected, given, as U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken stated in her opinion denying the motions to dismiss in the case, it was "no ordinary lawsuit."   

Aiken's statement is true in many respects, including the nature of the right asserted by the plaintiffs – 21 young people ranging from eight to nineteen years of age, and a climate scientist acting as guardian for future generations. They asserted that the U.S. Constitution protects the right to a "climate system capable of sustaining human life," something that had not been recognized by a federal court until Aiken issued her opinion in the case.

Furthermore, the violation the youth plaintiffs …

Jan. 27, 2020 by Joel Mintz
GlobalWarming_wide.jpg

From time to time, a judicial decision from a federal court has the potential to have a profound impact on American society and government policy. Such a case is Juliana v. United States, in which a group of 21 young people, together with an environmental organization and "a representative of future generations," brought suit against numerous federal agencies and officials seeking a judicially mandated plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions and a drawdown of excess atmospheric carbon.

Though it could result in needed, far-reaching changes in our nation's climate change policies, this lawsuit recently ran into a legal obstacle before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. By a two-to-one vote, the judges clearly acknowledged the grave and growing peril posed by an ongoing buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. At the same time, however, the panel …

Jan. 23, 2020 by Dave Owen
farm-stream-02-wide.jpg

Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. Reprinted with permission.

This morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA released a final rule determining which aquatic features are covered by the Clean Water Act. Already, the press coverage is following a familiar pattern: farming lobbyists praise the rule as a major victory, and environmentalists condemn it as an abdication of clean water protection and water quality science. The former part of that pattern has always been interesting to me. It's true that the farm lobby has been a prominent and effective participant in debates about this rule and its predecessors. But I think much of its participation, and the resulting press coverage, has been misleading. This new rule does offer benefits to farmers (at a likely cost to water quality), but the benefits aren't likely to be nearly as great as the rhetoric would lead …

Jan. 23, 2020 by James Goodwin
sunrise_on_water_wide.jpg

When the Trump administration released its recent proposal to gut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it trumpeted the action as a long-overdue step to "modernize" the law's implementation by "simplifying" and "clarifying" its procedural and analytical requirements for federal agencies. If these words sound familiar, that's because they're the disingenuous claptrap that opponents of regulatory safeguards repeatedly trot out to camouflage their efforts to rig legislative and rulemaking processes in favor of corporate polluters. Put differently, those terms might as well be conservatives' code words to describe something that will cause more trips to the emergency room for urban children who suffer from asthma, more toxic contaminants in our drinking water, more irreversible degradation of fragile wetlands, and more runaway climate change.

To wit, it was not so not long ago when opponents of regulatory safeguards used these exact words – modernize, simplify, and clarify – …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 17, 2020

Pandemic Spawns Dangerous Relaxation of Environmental Regulations

Sept. 16, 2020

The Pandemic's Toll on Science

Sept. 15, 2020

Citizen Suits, Environmental Settlements, and the Constitution: Part II

Sept. 14, 2020

Citizen Suits, Environmental Settlements, and the Constitution: Part I

Sept. 9, 2020

They Can't Breathe!

Sept. 8, 2020

Pandemic's Other Casualty: Expertise

Sept. 3, 2020

It's Time for Maryland to Protect Its Poultry Workers